Google+ Badge

Friday, June 23, 2017

New HTC U11 to replace my Note 4

I have been running the Note 4 that a previous company bought for me. Previous to that I had a Note 2. While I really like the Note series I was ready to be done with Samsung and the slow to never Android OS version updates. Newer Samsung phones are not cheap either and I buy my phones outright, not on a payment plan with the carrier. Personal choice.

I researched what was out there and made some guesses about what was coming up. The HTC U11 seemed to hit the sweet spot for me. So far I have been very happy with the purchase.

Pros of the U11

  • Much faster. Pretty obvious that is is a newer device + processor so it should be
  • Nice to not have to look at USB cable every time you plug it in - no upside down mode
  • Responsive - I am not seeing lag when starting apps etc.
  • Solid sound. Note 4 was tinny at best and easy to block speaker when holding it normally
  • Rounded - easier on all parts of the hand to hold this device
  • Fast charging
  • Solid battery life even with lots of screen usage
  • Can finally do slo-mo videos 
  • Solid camera
  • Comes with noise cancelling ear buds - sound good and do block the noise
  • I have Nougat
  • Squeeze to access camera. I think this is a handy usable gimmick.
Cons of the U11
  • Lost my Stylus - did not use it a ton but when I did it was very helpful
  • Screen is not as vibrant with its colors - everything is crisp though
  • Non-removable battery. I did replace the battery on the Note 4 as it aged
  • No headphone jack but I rarely use headphones and it did come with a dongle to use with older headphones / earbuds.
  • No IR blaster. Another thing I used from time to time but did not rely upon.
The pros greatly outweigh the cons. This was a great upgrade and I am super happy with my purchase. Ordered off Amazon along with a few extra USB-C cables. We had some in the house for my wife's Axon 7 but not enough as I needed one in car, one at work, one for laptop and one for computer room where I use phone for debugging.

Surprised I had to install the HTC software on the Mac to be able to debug over USB. Mac usually does not care about drivers. Once configured it worked great and beats the heck out of using Android file transfer crap when I do want to get photos off the phone. APKs push so much faster to the device as well. Probably a mix of USB-C and faster device.

I don't have any complaints about the phone. It has taken everything I have tossed at it. 

I did switch from Llama to Automagic. Llama was free and worked for years but it has not been updated in years and it was showing some issues with Nougat. Since Automagic is not free I tried the 10 day trial version off their website. After a day I paid for the full version. It has worked like a champ. I had to configure more to get my standard flows to work but it is more powerful. Wife was ready for a change as well so she is running Automagic now too. 

My setup is pretty basic:
Enter house -> enable WiFi and connect to it
Leave house -> disable WiFi, set phone to normal sound
Enter work -> enable WiFi, connect, set phone to vibrate
Leave work -> disable WiFi, set phone to normal sound
10:30 PM -> set phone to vibrate only mode
6:30 AM -> set phone to normal sound

As for other phones I considered:

Waiting on Pixel 2. I knew it would get near instant Android updates but the current series was hard to find in stock, had crappy speakers like the Note 4 and probably would cost a couple hundred more than the U11. Plus my birthday / father's day was great time to do a phone upgrade. The wait was going to be for longer that I was willing to hold out.

OnePlus 5. I am just iffy on their long term support. After it came out I was happy I skipped this one. I like the quad res screen over 1080 especially for Google Cardboard.

Newer LG phones. Seems the boot loop issue and other quality issues around LG continue to haunt them. Nothing on the phones really jumped out at me.

Friday, June 2, 2017

App is on the Play Store

Did the official release of the app Wednesday morning. By Friday I had over 10,000 installs. They did send out a bulk email to our current clients and many of them were hungry for the Android version. Various folks bought an iOS device and used that until the Android version was ready.

Gotta say it is an ego boost to hit 10,000 installs in a few days. I do realize this will taper off now but I am still supporting 10k users as the sole developer, the iOS guy pitched in on some of the code, of the app.

App is not 100% feature matched with iOS as of yet so I am working on adding the final matching features then we will work on improving the app and there are many other new features we will release in sync as time goes on.

Reviews have been pretty positive. Some are having issues with data outside the apps control. They are addressing those issues at the server level. I am using Flurry to track various things and to capture any issues found. The Play Store is also catching crashes. So far there have been about 17 unique crash events affecting just a few people. I have been able to track down and solve most of them. Some have nothing in the stack trace for me to even guess what is happening and a few were in the Flurry Library.

While I like Flurry the documentation is sad. You can't find any one place to tell you the latest version. Most of the official Flurry pages mention some flavor of 6.x but I found one place that said 7.0.0 so that was what I was using. I then decided to go to source, the jcenter repository, and found 7.1.1 was available. Since I had fixed a number of issues I had issues in this library I went ahead and did a fast followup release that I hope will knock things down close to zero other than maybe the issues that don't have a useful stack trace.

I would say our QA department did a bang up job as the issues found have been very obscure and timing based. The app seems really solid.

Excited to get more data out of Flurry as well. I have set up a couple of reports there already but I can tell the data is lagging a bit because I can see a lot more action in real-time than is getting reported in the Explorer. Once we have a good solid week of data it will be more interesting and we can monitor things over time.

So why Flurry? At my last job we started using Google Analytics but it was just not cutting it for Mobile. Reporting with Fabric / Crashlytics did not seem to cover what we needed. Firebase seemed really powerful if you were willing to pay for BigData to do your queries. Flurry seemed to kind of hit the sweet spot for free data analysis. It is pretty easy to implement and a few simple helper bits for Kotlin and I was able to get a decent set of analytics in place in about a day.

Next up on the learning side of things is constraints layouts. I can quickly layout everything I can think up with a mix of Relative, Linear, Table, and Grid layouts but Constraints is the future and the sooner I learn it the better. The conversion tools seems a bit iffy so learning from scratch is probably the way to go.

I did get bit by the Java to Kotlin conversion tool as well. I had written an image cropping custom control in Java. Since I am doing full on Kotlin now and I needed to enhance this custom contol I had Android Studio convert it to Java. It compiled but did not work correctly. It decided to typecast a multiplication for me from Float to Int but I needed the multiplication to happen fully as a Float and the final result to be an Int. It decided to convert the code to case the number I was multiplying by first. Since that number was between 0.0 and 1.0 that cast was pointless. Simple enough to fix and I had a good idea what to do since I wrote the original code.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

2 months into Kotlin and the app is in Beta

I have not quite been at the new job 2 months yet and I submitted the app to a closed Beta on the Google Play Store. First interaction with the new Play Store UI which was a bit frustrating. I got all the pieces in place finally. You have to jump around a lot between the app and managing the Beta email list.

Feels darn good to have the app out there. It has been a bit of a challenge due to server side fun. There were some REST calls that seems quite silly and they worked them over so I sent / received a lot less traffic to do the work I needed.

Learned how to use a 3rd party UPC scanner, credit card swiper and credit card signature control. The CC swiper was the hardest as the documentation was lacking and so, thanks to the fine decompiler in Android Studio, I ended up sniffing around the API the hard way to find what I wanted.

Basic stats on the app

26 Activities
 9 Fragments
11 Dialogs
15 Adapters (ListView or RecyclerView)
 5 Custom controls written by me
59 Layouts (lots of row types)
48 unique REST calls

Not a small app but not massive either. All the code I wrote was in Kotlin, no Java on my side. For my first full Kotlin app I am very happy with the language. I would not switch back to Java at this time. I learned a ton and refactored a lot during the app development cycle. I kept finding better ways to do things in Kotlin saving even more lines of code. Support for round icons for Nougat and above. Making all the special permission asking calls as well. Not too many of them but the CC swiper needs to have access to the microphone, I need access to external storage and locations services.

QA has been pretty smooth too. They are finding the edge case stuff because we have a great QA team. I just don't see NPE things which were always frustrating when doing Java coding. I have been able to knock out the bugs within an hour of them showing up in most cases.

There is more to do on the app to get it in feature sync with the iOS version. What is there is very functional and fully usable by the target audience. It is also only being released to a small Beta team to start. I will continue to add the other features with a planned full release in early June. I need to deal with returns, some image capture and manipulation, and tie in to social media apps. There are parts of the Android app that are cleaner and easier to use than the iOS app so it also needs to get in sync with Android on that side. Good to have each team member push the other one.

Late in testing we were having some timeouts with the credit card processing. 3rd party service we use. Default timeout is 10 seconds for Retrofit + OKHTTP. Upped that to 30 seconds and things went smoother. Very happy with Retrofit, OKHTTP and Moshi. Had not used them before. I was on Volley + GSON in the past. Don't miss Volley at all. Retrofit makes it super easy to set up the REST calls with annotations. Using Moshi because it is already being used by the OKHTTP stack so what the heck. No need to toss in another library.

Time to enjoy the fact it was released and then start hammering away at the next parts of the app. Will be interesting to see what feedback we get from the Beta group. QA, other staff and myself had beat on it pretty hard. I pulled it into DDMS and went to each screen and did a kill process to make sure it survives that. Couple of tweaks there and all was fine. My first proguard configuration worked as well. I was able to run every part of the app. Hopefully this works fine on all the devices out there - looking at you Samsung.

Went minimum SDK level of 19. I have tested on 480x800 displays as well. Figure that covers a massive majority of phones. My guess is most real world devices with be above 19 and with much larger screens. QA did testing on 7" tablets as well. No special tablet code in there as far as bonus layouts. I see some places that would be handy though.

I have a Note 4 running Marshmallow and have been testing on that when not in an emulator. Good to have a Samsung Device for testing but I really want to upgrade my phone. Waiting for the new Pixel 2 and OnePlus 5 to arrive before I pull the trigger

Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 Weeks in using Kotlin

After using Kotlin for just three weeks I say it would be very hard to go back to Java. Everything takes less code, is just easier to do and the code readability just makes more sense. Part of it is using new libraries such as Retrofit as well. It is just super easy to set up a REST call.

I have created a small Kotlin utility that coverts JSON right out of Charles Proxy to best guess Kotlin objects used by Moshi. I am also use Moshi to pass the objects from one Activity to another. So nice to not need to configure a bunch of parameters to set in the Intent to send over data, just one and it contains the full object as a string that I convert right back to a full object when I get it on the other side. Every bit of data is there ready to use and it just takes one line on each side to send / receive.

I am up to 24 fragments / activities already. A bunch of adapters as I am using ListView when it fits and configured my first Kotlin RecyclerView as well. All pretty clean and easy and working like a champ. There is a ton of code that is done and a lot more to do. My Trello checklist keeps growing.

The iOS code uses a bar code scanner. I set that up on Friday. Went in really easily and with a lot less code that what the iOS guy had to do. I did create and swap out the icon for that action as iOS was using a camera which made no sense to me. On the iOS simulator a UIViewController showed up for a brief moment and disappeared so I had no idea what this area was even doing. I asked QA, who has a real device, and found out I needed a bar code scanner.

The switch to Kotlin should have happened some time back. It is hard to get yourself to do it on an existing product. I was totally starting from scratch here so it really was the perfect time to give it a shot. If I had gotten a little ways in and found I could not handle it I could have backed out and just gone Java. I force myself to keep going. Really were very few struggle areas and that was related to trying new 3rd party libraries and not Kotlin.

As I have worked along there has been a bit of code refactoring as I have found better ways to do things and I have taken cut / paste code and moved it into one location. You don't know it needs to be shared until you use it multiple times. I have a bunch of other ideas for refactoring as well running through my head this weekend that I will give a shot this week. Want to get the code as far along as possible for QA to be able to start in depth testing before I get too refactor crazy.

There is a need to connect to a credit card reader in the near future. I have not messed with that library yet. Hoping it is pretty straight forward. Something I might end up tackling this week.

I have been shooting for breadth over depth for the first three weeks. Get as menu drawer menu items to show something as possible. This might be the initial list and the first details screen. Next up is taking each screen and filling everything out. The ability to add a new order, the order detail screen, navigation form order to order etc. The order detail screen can be accessed from a lot of places and is key to things working. It will be RecyclerView based with a lot of business logic as to what to show when.

Knocking out all the main stuff gets the REST calls in place and allows me to demo a lot of aspects. Most of that is request / reply / show data so not much can go wrong. The next steps will be the business logic and where I actually POST / PUT stuff back to the server. Data validation, hide / show of controls, etc. and that is where the real meat of QA will reside. Set up to tackle a chuck of that this week. Kotlin probably does not help nor hinder that area. It is learning business logic and applying it in code. 

Kotlin has won me over. I don't see going back to Java for Android.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

First week with Kotlin

Got my first nearly full week of Kotlin in place. I can't say full week as I started the new job on a Tuesday and there was training involved too. I have the iOS / Swift code to follow as well.

I needed to grab the colors used by the client along with redoing one of the main graphics as an SVG image. Previously I had Adobe Illustrator but I don't have that now so I used Vectr (I know, odd spelling) which was fine for the minor image I needed to so. I also found Krita for graphics editing and I used that to size the Android icons. I used another online helper program to do the new rounded version of the icons as well. First time I have created a set of those.

When working from home I used my personal PC to play music via Media Monkey + a helper program that exposed a web site for me to pause / skip songs. Don't have that working in an office so I started using Clementine but it has a bug where it double plays WMA songs which got annoying so I gave Vox a shot. Nice thing is I could drag and drop the playlist right out of Clementine into Vox and Vox has a plug-in so I can use the multi-media keys on the Microsoft Natural 4000 keyboard to play / pause and change the volume.

Speaking of the keyboard, the first one failed. The space bar would either not work or it would repeat spaces forever. Took it back to Microcenter who does things in what I think is an odd manner. I just wanted to swap keyboard - bad for good - but they don't do that. They will refund the bad one and give you store credit then you have to go find the replacement and go back through the line again to buy it. Seems silly to me but I have a working keyboard. I have used this style of keyboard for a long time. Sure, they have died on me in the past after years of service but I have not had a bad one out of the box.

While at Microcenter I also got a small laptop bag and a mouse pad. They want me to take the laptop home every night. No big deal, makes it easier if I need to work from home anyway. On that subject I ordered a USB C to mini-display port and USB-C to USB adapter to have at home so when I do work from home I can use my big monitor, keyboard and mouse. That showed up Friday from Amazon and they work just fine. There is a rumor I will get a separate power brick to have at home as well.

Back to Kotlin. It is very handy that when you copy in Java code it will auto convert it to Kotlin. Makes learning stuff a ton easier as well. Kotlin sure uses a lot of lines of code to do the same thing. Copied in an enumeration where I had a couple of extra fields associated. Kotlin does it with a one line constructor. Since a lot of the work I have done has been the basic setup I have not really gotten deep into Kotlin yet.

I got the first couple of screens ready, login and then the drawer based menu system. I stubbed out fragments for all the main screens and implemented the basic help screen as well. More colors, drawables and a few layouts. Also battled getting the actionbar colors I wanted with some help from Reddit. Demoed the app to the team and they were happy how far along I had gotten it.

The build.gradle files were my next target. I added some booleans so use the BuildConfig file to control access to menu items. I also setup a file so I can run tasks to update the build version string and build number for the command line as well. Tossed in some more libraries I knew I will be using in the next steps including play services so I can get a unique ID the Android way.

Next up is getting Retrofit in place. That is where I will start next week. Need to find some decent tutorials on using it with Kotlin. Will tie in some dependency injection as well. There is some documentation for our REST calls but I am also using Charles Proxy to monitor what iOS is doing. Documentation gets out of date so seeing the raw JSON is usually the way to go. Plus I can see all the data in the request header and the response.

I have not really looking into the Swift code yet. I have been in there to grab some assets including a special font they use. Of course I have the app working on the iOS simulator so I can check out the program flow and screen layouts.

I also configured Slate so I can have a configuration for single screen when I detach at work and another configuration when I am running multiple monitors. Very handy to have all the windows move to the correct position when you start up as the Mac is great at starting the programs again but it sucks at getting them in the proper layout.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Moving to Kotlin

I am going to start a new job and my goal is to go Kotlin. I have been writing Android apps in Java for a number of years. Part of that time I also wrote iOS apps in ObjC. At the job I just left I only did Java Android programming.

I learned a lot at the job including ButterKnife, Dagger, Google Analytics, Flurry Analytics, Event Bus, Twillio, BrainTree, Timber, Vector Drawables, and Glide. All of those things make Java programming easier. I also used a number of things that I used at previous jobs including Volley, GSON, AndroidSVG, and  Google Play Services.

Now it is time to move forward into the land of Kotlin. I have been using it for a number of smaller command line utilities. I had used Python for things like that in the past and I found I can whip them out just as quickly in Kotlin plus it let me learn a new language that I could also use for Android.

I then stepped up and converted a small app that I had done in Java to Kotlin using the Anko library and then I wrote an animation test program from scratch from Kotlin using XML for the layout. Gave me a good peek into a number of aspects of Kotlin. I learned how to setup Kotlin for Android. My utilities were done with IntelliJ.

The old company was moving away from native development so there was not desire there to change to a new native language even if we did it bits and pieces at a time. Sure there was no harm doing some one off utilities but no way I was going to get Kotlin into the main apps.

Next up was taking some time to learn what libraries I might be able to use with Kotlin. There was an excellent talk by Jake Wharton about Okio. It started from the base of the pyramid and worked all the way up through OkHTTP, Moshi and Retrofit. Gave me a great understanding of the entire tree and what it is much better than NIO. Excited to use this chain of tools and to get away from the massive boilerplate of Volley when making REST calls. Annotations are your friend.

Don't know if I will use DSL and Anko but I might use the SQLite aspects of it. I like some of what it offers but also like seeing the preview of my layouts in XML. I do plan on using ConstraintLayout as I have used MigLayout for Java desktop and Autolayout for iOS so I think I can pick it up pretty quickly. I can pull off all kinds of things with RelativeLayout, LinearLayout, TableLayout, GridLayout and PercentLayout bit it seems silly to keep mixing all those together.

Scary to make all these changes at the same time. Kotlin will have me looking up how to do some things I already know to do easily in Java and general syntax. I have a decent base of knowledge now but I will probably fall back into old habits for speed. I know there is a lot of new syntax to use with Kotlin. Of course working code is what counts, using every trick may tighten up the code but is not a requirement. As I learn more I am sure I will go back to fairly fresh code and update it. Refactoring as you learn is a good idea.

I have watched enough Kotlin videos to know what bits and pieces are there so I will attempt to use as much as I have learned. I also think the iOS code written in Swift by the current developer will help me make the switch as it has a lot of the same programming patterns used by Kotlin.

Having a solid Android understanding is huge. I already know what I can do in Android, know about Activity and Fragment life cycles, know what the various Views do and can do recycler views with multiple row types. It will be more about learning syntax of a language and how to tie things together using Kotlin patterns.

Nervous and excited for this new life adventure. Not going to miss the old semicolon and constant null pointer checks. Will take a little bit but I bet my programming speed increases and I actually end up writing less code than I have been writing in Java.